The Joseph Banks’ Florilegium
“Every blockhead does that; My grand tour shall be one round the whole globe”
Joseph Banks in response to his family’s suggestion that he undertake the traditional Grand Tour of Italy and the sites of classical antiquity.
Joseph Banks (1743-1820), one of the richest characters, most multi-talented and indefatigable of 18th century individuals (later President of the Royal Society for 41 years) joined Captain Cook on HMS Endeavour’s first journey (1768).
When the voyage set out, Banks was only 25. Samuel Johnson, remarked of the 106 foot Endeavour that, rather than sail on her, he would have turned, with relief, to jail.
The trip was inspired by the Royal Society and funded by King George III himself. It failed in its first mission – to observe and chart the transit of Venus from Tahiti – but excelled in its second. This was to classify flora and fauna and bring home specimens.
3,607 plant species were identified and 30,828 specimens collected. Over 1,400 of these have been calculated by contemporary scholars, to have been entirely new. With a team of 25 master engravers over thirteen years, Banks oversaw the production of copper plates to stand testimony to the collection. Why they were never published at the time or during the next 200 years remains a mystery, as they constitute the only collection of line engravings in the world of this quality.
This output has been lovingly printed for the first time using the 17th Century a la poupee technique requiring ‘as much care and artistry as any monk in a medieval scriptorium’.
Images © Alecto Historical Editions.